Report on bridges urges more funding; State should double replacement rate

This story was published on Nov. 29, 2007 on Page B1 in all editions of the Bangor Daily News

AUGUSTA – A report created in response to the Interstate 35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis calls for a $50 million to $60 million increase in funding per year for bridge repairs and replacements in Maine.

The report also says the state should at least double the number of bridge replacements from the current 14 per year to between 30 and 40 per year.

The report by a team of 15 engineers says Maine’s bridges are safe and that the current inspection program is effective. But it also predicts additional weight restrictions and bridge closures unless more money is found to replace or make

needed repairs on bridges.

“The buying power of federal funding for bridges has declined in recent years,” said Gov. John Baldacci, who called for the report after the Minnesota disaster last summer. “The tragedy in Minnesota shows that this is a national issue. The federal government needs to step up its funding to address bridge needs. Meanwhile, we’re going to do what’s necessary to continue to assure the safety of the traveling public.”

The engineering team reviewed bridge safety risks and Maine’s bridge inspection and capital improvement programs.

Among the 25 recommendations is boosting the $70 million in annual spending on repairs and replacements by another $50 million to $60 million.

The team suggested adopting a bridge inspection cycle of no more than 24 months, adopting a new bridge posting policy, improving documentation and changing Maine law to allow closer monitoring of overweight vehicles on critical bridges.

A transportation advocacy group applauded the governor for taking the bridge issue seriously and pledged to work with the administration in securing the additional funding it says will be needed.

Maria Fuentes, executive director the Maine Better Transportation Association, said that long-term borrowing is one of a number of options to increase funding. Fuentes believes that with bridges’ life spans being extended, it’s fair to ask future generations to help assume the costs of maintaining the spans.

Fuentes said she was not surprised the report found Maine’s bridges to be safe, but she remains concerned that visual inspections of the structures will not find problems hidden below the surface of some of them.

“We expect too much if we think that with visual inspections they’re going to get it right every single time,” said Fuentes.

To read the report, go online to www.mainedot.gov and click on “Keeping Our Bridges Safe.”